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Anonymous FTP can be a valuable service if correctly configured and administered. The first section of this document provides general guidance in initial configuration of an anonymous FTP area. The second section addresses the issues and challenges involved when a site wants to provide writable directories within their anonymous FTP areas. The third section provides information about previous CERT advisories related to FTP services.

The following guidelines are a set of suggested recommendations that have been beneficial to many sites. CERT recognizes that there will be sites that have unique requirements and needs, and that these sites may choose to implement different configurations.

I. Configuring anonymous FTP

A. FTP daemon

Sites should ensure that they are using the most recent version of their FTP daemon.

B. Setting up the anonymous FTP directories

The anonymous FTP root directory (~ftp) and its subdirectories should not be owned by the ftp account or be in the same group as the ftp account. This is a common configuration problem. If any of these directories are owned by ftp or are in the same group as the ftp account and are not write protected, an intruder will be able to add files (such as a .rhosts file) or modify other files. Many sites find it acceptable to use the root account. Making the ftp root
directory and its subdirectories owned by root, part of the system group, and protected so that only root has write permission will help to keep your anonymous FTP service secure.

Here is an example of an anonymous FTP directory setup:

drwxr-xr-x 7 root system 512 Mar 1 15:17 ./
drwxr-xr-x 25 root system 512 Jan 4 11:30 ../
drwxr-xr-x 2 root system 512 Dec 20 15:43 bin/
drwxr-xr-x 2 root system 512 Mar 12 16:23 etc/
drwxr-xr-x 10 root system 512 Jun 5 10:54 pub/

Files and libraries, especially those used by the FTP daemon and those in ~ftp/bin and ~ftp/etc, should have the same protections as these directories. They should not be owned by ftp or be in the same group as the ftp account; and they should be write protected.

C. Using proper password and group files

We strongly advise that sites not use the system's /etc/passwd file as the password file or the system's /etc/group as the group file in the ~ftp/etc directory. Placing these system files in the ~ftp/etc directory will permit intruders to get a copy of these files. These files are optional and are not used for access control.

We recommend that you use a dummy version of both the ~ftp/etc/passwd and ~ftp/etc/group files. These files should be owned by root. The dir command uses these dummy versions to show owner and group names of the files and directories instead of displaying arbitrary numbers.

Sites should make sure that the ~/ftp/etc/passwd file contains no account names that are the same as those in the system's /etc/passwd file. These files should include only those entries that are relevant to the FTP hierarchy or needed to show owner and group names. In addition, ensure that the password field has been cleared. The
examples below show the use of asterisks (*) to clear the password field.

Below is an example of a passwd file from the anonymous FTP area on

ssphwg:*:3144:20:Site Specific Policy Handbook Working Group::
cops:*:3271:20:COPS Distribution::
tools:*:9921:20:CERT Tools::
ftp:*:9922:90:Anonymous FTP::
nist:*:9923:90:NIST Files::

Here is an example group file from the anonymous FTP area on


II. Providing writable directories in your anonymous FTP configuration

There is a risk to operating an anonymous FTP service that permits users to store files. CERT strongly recommends that sites do not automatically create a "drop off" directory unless thought has been given to the possible risks of having such a service. CERT has received many reports where these directories have been used as "drop off"
directories to distribute bootlegged versions of copyrighted software or to trade information on compromised accounts and password files. CERT has also received reports of files systems being maliciously filled
causing denial of service problems.

This section discusses three ways to address these problems. The first is to use a modified FTP daemon. The second method is to provide restricted write capability through the use of special directories. The third method
involves the use of a separate directory.

A. Modified FTP daemon

If your site is planning to offer a "drop off" service, CERT suggests using a modified FTP daemon that will control access to the "drop off" directory. This is the best way to prevent unwanted use of writable areas. Some suggested modifications are:

1. Implement a policy where any file dropped off cannot be accessed until the system manager examines the file
and moves it to a public directory.
2. Limit the amount of data transferred in one session.
3. Limit the overall amount of data transferred based on available disk space.
4. Increase logging to enable earlier detection of abuses.

For those interested in modifying the FTP daemon, source code is usually available from your vendor. Public domain sources are available from: ~ftp/packages/wuarchive-ftpd ~ftp/systems/unix/bsd-sources/libexec/ftpd ~ftp/pub/DEC/gwtools/ftpd.tar.Z

The CERT Coordination Center has not formally reviewed, evaluated, or endorsed the FTP daemons described. The decision to use the FTP daemons described is the responsibility of each user or organization, and we encourage each organization to thoroughly evaluate these programs before installation or use.

B. Using protected directories

If your site is planning to offer a "drop off" service and is unable to modify the FTP daemon, it is possible to control access by using a maze of protected directories. This method requires prior coordination and cannot guarantee protection from unwanted use of the writable FTP area, but has been used effectively by many sites.

Protect the top level directory (~ftp/incoming) giving only execute permission to the anonymous user (chmod 751 ~ftp/incoming). This will permit the anonymous user to change directory (cd), but will not allow the user to view the contents of the directory.

drwxr-x--x 4 root system 512 Jun 11 13:29 incoming/

Create subdirectories in the ~ftp/incoming using names known only between your local users and the anonymous users that you want to have "drop off" permission. The same care used in selecting passwords should be taken in selecting these subdirectory names because the object is to choose names that cannot be easily guessed. Please do not use our example directory names of jAjwUth2 and MhaLL-iF.

drwxr-x-wx 10 root system 512 Jun 11 13:54 jAjwUth2/
drwxr-x-wx 10 root system 512 Jun 11 13:54 MhaLL-iF/

This will prevent the casual anonymous FTP user from writing files in your anonymous FTP file system. It is important to realize that this method does not protect a site against the result of intentional or accidental disclosure of the directory names. Once a directory name becomes public knowledge, this method provides no protection at all
from unwanted use of the area. Should a name become public, a site may choose to either remove or rename the writable directory.

C. Using a single disk drive

If your site is planning to offer a "drop off" service and is unable to modify the FTP daemon, it may be desirable to limit the amount of data transferred to a single file system mounted as ~ftp/incoming. If possible, dedicate a disk drive and mount it as ~ftp/incoming.

The system administrator should monitor this directory (~ftp/incoming) on a continuing basis to ensure that it is not being misused.

III. Related CERT Advisories

The following CERT Advisories directly relate to FTP daemons or impact on providing FTP service:


Past advisories are available for anonymous FTP from

Copyright 1995 Carnegie Mellon University